A few months ago, we told you about a troubling under-the-radar ruling in Munoz Santos v. Thomas, a case challenging the extradition of Jose Munoz Santos, a Mexican national, based on the testimony of witnesses who say they were tortured by Mexican police. At the time, CCR, along with other nationally prominent human rights groups, decided to jump in and file an amicus brief asking the full panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to review this ruling. Our brief drew out the stakes of the case, arguing that if the U.S. government granted this extradition, it would violate the United Nations Convention against Torture which is fully binding as federal law. Well, the case is definitely on the radar now: the full appeals court panel has agreed to review the ruling.
Last week, we filed another, more substantive amicus brief with the full. We explained further why international law is part of U.S. law and, drawing on our expertise regarding U.S. breaches of the torture prohibition in the “war on terror,” urged the court to ensure there will be no judicial sanction of torture practices in U.S. courts. CCR, along with the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, and Human Rights First, are amici.
The extradition court authorized Santos’s extradition without addressing the torture claims, thus signaling that torture-tainted evidence could be used as probable cause. Evidence obtained by torture is not only illegal and immoral; it is also scientifically proven to be so unreliable that it cannot be deemed competent evidence in a judicial proceeding. The Convention against Torture, which is binding and enforceable as U.S. law, makes unambiguously clear that courts must roundly reject such evidence. Indeed, as CCR’s brief argues, in our constitutional system, the prohibition on torture is not an ordinary legal rule; it represents a “legal archetype,” reflecting a broader commitment to non-brutality embedded in the spirit of law.
The full appeals court has an important opportunity to reaffirm this absolute and unconditional prohibition – a particularly pressing issue given the shameful legacy of the U.S. government’s torture program at Guantanamo and other U.S.-run offshore prisons, and the lack of accountability for these crimes during President Obama’s tenure. Allowing the extradition court’s ruling to stand will not only violate the U.S. government’s domestic and international legal obligations to denounce torture, it risks further institutionalizing the culture of impunity that perpetuates it.